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The cold truth is victory means little

Terry Pegula remains on track to purchase the Buffalo Sabres, but don't fool yourself into thinking sweeping changes and immediate fixes are coming soon. He's not expected to be introduced as owner during NHL board of governors meetings before the All-Star Game, as many had hoped.

Step away from the panic button. The $175 million sale hasn't hit any major snags that would kill a complex transaction that takes time. Sources suggested in recent days he'll likely close on the purchase in February. And if you've been watching this season you know the Sabres aren't going, well, anywhere.

Was it me or did the Sabres' 2-1 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens feel like an unseasonably warm January day in which you enjoy the weather for a few hours knowing darned well 15 degrees and snow are around the corner? It was little more than a brief reprieve, a welcome break, right?

Let's start with the good news. The Sabres moved within eight points of Atlanta for the final playoff spot. They beat a Montreal team that has been battling with Boston for first place in the division. They came up with an inspiring effort in the third period. Ryan Miller was terrific in net. They deserved the win.

Nathan Gerbe played one of his best games all year. He was a general nuisance in the third period while tussling with Brian Gionta in a battle of featherweights. He irritated Scott Gomez enough to draw a high-sticking penalty that led to Jason Pominville's winner in overtime.

All were good signs, but let's also face reality. The Sabres have won six of nine games over the past three weeks yet have made up only two points in the standings. They have 45 points in 45 games. If they win five of nine over the final 37 games this season, which is a tall order for a .500 team, it's not likely to be enough to reach the postseason.

If anyone should have been celebrating after the game, it was Montreal. The Habs were short two forwards for nearly 56 minutes, were without three forwards for most of the game, played Monday night before traveling to Buffalo, managed to scratch out a point against a division opponent and almost took two.

Enjoy the win, Sabres fans, but don't lose sight of the fact that they remain a flawed team that needs work. Really, what can you say at this point, that Jochen Hecht is on the verge of busting out and carrying this team to the playoffs? He's now their No. 1 center between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.

Hecht has seven goals and 17 points this season and is making $3.5 million. His performance Tuesday, in which he had four glorious scoring chances and converted none in 19-plus minutes, has become the rule rather than the exception this season. He's reached a point where he couldn't bury a rumor.

And he's their best center? Yes.

Tim Connolly is on pace for 12 goals and 39 points. Take away the games he missed from injuries and calculate his production per game over a full season, and Connolly is trudging toward 15 goals and 47 points and a minus-30 rating. He makes $4.5 million. Cody McCormick, at $4 million less, has been more productive at even strength.

Hecht is headed for 12 goals and 30 points. Paul Gaustad is on pace for seven goals and 25 points. Rob Niedermayer still hasn't scored in 36 games. The Sabres weren't counting on him for 20 goals, but you can safely assume they were banking on scoring more than zero at this stage of the season.

The Sabres travel to Boston on Thursday before playing three games against teams currently behind them in the playoffs. Buffalo also is staring down the barrel of a seven-game road trip in March. By then, Pegula should be the owner. That's when the excitement begins.


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